Why do we as Suzuki teachers plan those extra activities for our students? Activities that may range from holiday cookies after group lessons to a group outing to a concert of the local symphony. Occasionally the extra grows to be an activity such as a concert tour and international travel. The question remains, regardless of the activity’s magnitude, why do we add these extras to our already busy lives and the busy lives of our families?

I believe we do them to inspire and motivate. These extras also bring an element of celebration into the musical lives of our students. We do ask much in the way of discipline and practice from our students, so celebrating this commitment is appropriate in my opinion.

In the fall of 2009, after some preliminary planning with Martin Rüttiman, current director of the Swiss Suzuki Association and Koen Rens, current chairman of the European Suzuki Association, I decided it was time for one of these big extras. I began planning a concert tour/studio exchange with both of these Suzuki colleagues. For logistical and financial reasons I decided to limit our travel to one country, Switzerland. The group consisted of nine of the thirteen members of our program’s advanced performance group, Spring Strings. Four other students from the studio joined this group and performed the repertoire that they knew. Many parents decided to join us as well. We traveled for 13 days during the summer of 2010.

To jump past all the planning and even the trip itself, I have to ask the question, “Did this big extra yield the results I and all the participants hoped for?” I know my answer. However, I think it would be better to let others speak first.

The Parents Speak:

This summer, my daughter and I took a trip of a lifetime. Embracing the Suzuki philosophy of developing the whole person, the trip was packed full of fun, education and culture. –Lynne

I accompanied my two children on the best field trip ever. Hannah, age 12, and Caleb, age 10, were invited to tour Switzerland with the Spring Strings group. Since violin is a huge part of our family’s life, I thought we should definitely travel with the group. This trip turned out to be a great adventure for all. –Julie

After arriving in Luzern via train from Zurich, a violent, summer rainstorm broke out which made it memorable for all. –Lynne

We were greeted by one of the fiercest thunderstorms ever. My kids swiftly used their ponchos to protect their violins in the rain as we made it to the host family’s car. -Julie

My daughter and I had an amazing time in Switzerland. Our trip consisted of two parts: Luzern and Lauterbrunnen. In Luzern, our group of 26 broke into groups of two to four to decamp with the families of Luzern Suzuki School. Some stayed in town, others in suburbs or nearby villages, but all stayed with Swiss families who were generous hosts to our group. After four days of the companionship and participation of the Swiss students, the two groups performed together in a beautiful church in Meggen. –Martha

While mornings were often spent in rehearsals, the group enjoyed afternoons hiking Mount Rigi, picnicking, riding cable cars, touring the Richard Wagner museum, running through train stations to the next train, and swimming in the many beautiful lakes of Switzerland. We met many Swiss children and shared a beautiful concert together. –Julie

We toured the city, climbed Mount Rigi and the most fun of all—we swam in Lake Luzern, which was refreshing after a long day of sightseeing. –Lynne

My children have many fond memories of playing with the children of our host family. I was so impressed that the language barrier didn’t get in the way of playtime and performing music together. The Swiss were so kind to all of us. –Julie

The language barrier fell fast, and on our final night, we gave a concert with our new friends. After the concert, we gathered for a barbeque and exchanged addresses and phone numbers. I hope we see some of these wonderful Swiss people in Colorado in the near future. –Lynne

Next we traveled to the Lauterbrunnen Valley where we settled in to a mountain hostel in Stechelberg at the end of the valley. It was a simple inn situated in the most glorious alpine landscape. –Martha

The Belgians—another group of lively and bright musicians led by their Suzuki teacher, Koen Rens—arrived our first evening. All the students practiced morning and night outside in the cool air, serenading everyone around. Three concerts quickly followed. The Kirche Brienz was my favorite. This centuries old church sits at the top of a hill overlooking the lake and town. –Lynne

Hannah and Caleb had the greatest time rolling down the very steep hills of the Alps in our back yard with the children from Belgium. The best part for my son was celebrating his 10th birthday with everybody. –Julie

Further Reflections:

This trip was an unbelievable experience for my daughter and me. Here are a few of the reasons why:

- Spending time together. The opportunity for just the two of us to travel together to a new place and take in the sites was incredible. We read together, hiked together, walked together, explored together, ate together, and enjoyed music together. And I was able to enjoy her music for hours and hours.
- Witnessing the Swiss way of life. We loved staying with our Swiss hosts, the Hirshi family. We had long conversations about school systems, career paths, and economic development in Switzerland. It was fascinating. But just having the opportunity to witness the rhythm of a Swiss family in action was really interesting for Grace and me both. I was particularly taken with the simplicity and industriousness of Swiss life.
- Being inspired by other music students. The Belgian students were full of life, a passion for music, and simple joy. They were delightful to be around, and Grace couldn’t help but notice that they would happily shut themselves up in their rooms to practice for hours every day. What an inspiration!
- Getting to know each other. Because our lives are so busy in Colorado, I don’t have many opportunities to really get to know and commune with the other families in Glenn and Kathleen’s studio. This trip was a wonderful chance to do just that.
- Laying eyes on the Berner Oberland. I had no idea how gorgeous the Lauterbrunnen Valley would be. It was incredibly beautiful: filled with waterfalls, glacier-fed rivers, wild flowers, Swiss cows, meandering hiking trails, bridges, historic inns above tree-line, and hearty hikers. It was an inspiring landscape that I am grateful to have seen. –Martha

Imagine a town at the end of the road surrounded by the Alps. Waterfalls were seen on the steep mountains in every direction. The flora was green and flourishing. Hiking trails were easily accessed and a river gushed through the village with clear, mountain water. Many mornings, we enjoyed a run along the trail next to the river.

My daughter and I have wonderful memories and will always be grateful for this experience –Lynne

It is said that it is difficult to communicate with each other when you don’t speak each other’s language. However, my observations proved that the Swiss, Belgians, and Americans shared a common language, music—which is an indescribable language of its own beauty. How blessed we were to be part of this trip filled with the sound of many languages, with music being the primary language. –Julie

The Students Speak:

I enjoyed the beautiful sites and really liked the Thun castle. –Hannah

I loved the cable car when we went up really high, and it was awesome when we went on the alpine toboggans. –Caleb

Favorite activity? Either the alpine slide, or playing with the other kids. It was great to hear them play. It’s cool to hear other students playing the same Suzuki pieces we’re playing—it is truly an international method. –Andrew

Of the two places that we stayed in Switzerland, Luzern and Stechelberg, both were so breath taking that I cannot possibly declare either one as my favorite place.

While in Luzern, my favorite moment was hiking up to the top of Mount Rigi and then coming back down the mountain and teaching all the Swiss kids and instructors how to play the card game Golf. –Rachel

I was one of the only students that went on the trip without my family. At first I was a bit sad knowing that I wouldn’t get to share this experience with my parents like many of the other students did. After getting to know all of the other Suzuki families and teachers, I found that I created my own little “Suzuki Family” that will always share those wonderful memories with me. –Brittney

I literally spent a couple of hours thinking about the trip to Switzerland trying to narrow it down to a favorite activity or a favorite memory, and I couldn’t. I loved every part of this trip, from the places, to the playing, to the experiences, and most of all the people! It was most definitely the experience of a lifetime. I will always treasure the memories I have; every time I play Fiocco Allegro I think of Martin saying “Make it spicy!” about the middle section and everyone laughing. I had the most fun rehearsing that I’d had in quite a long time on the trip! I keep my fingers crossed that our Swiss friends will come to Colorado sometime soon, because I missing playing Golf with them—a lot! –Catherine


Yes, I believe the trip was worth the time and effort. All of us made new friends, and have wonderful memories. Both my husband, Glenn, and I noticed a new confidence and focus in the playing of students as a result of this trip. Doris Estermann, a parent and teacher in Switzerland, said, “The highpoint and at the same time farewell from the exchange was the joint concert on July 14 in the church at Meggen. The days were both interesting and rich in learning for the kids as well as for the guest parents. The new contacts will surely remain into the future.”

Since the Spring Studio viewed this trip as an exchange, we hope to complete that other half of the exchange with both our Swiss and Belgian friends during the summer of 2012!

Parent contributors: Lynne Eley, Martha Records, and Julie Seeley.
Student contributors: Brittney Bulawa, Rachel Jacks, Andrew Ng, Catherine Patton, and Hannah & Caleb Seeley.